Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Read values La Follette skills in domestic, international contexts

Woman standing in front of building flying German flag

Lindsay Read won a prestigious fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation that has taken her to Berlin. Here she is in front of the Bundestag, home to Germany's parliament.


After completing her Humboldt fellowship in 2014, Lindsay Read rejoined the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Chicago.

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Lindsay Read's career has been just the right blend of domestic and international, letting her explore how U.S. public policies affect people from other countries and how other nations approach their domestic programs.

Now, after nearly four years with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the 2009 Master of Public Affairs alum won a prestigious fellowship with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation that has taken her to Berlin, Germany.

With the German Chancellor Fellowship for Prospective Leaders, Read is examining consumer behavior and food marketing in the context of public nutrition programs. She is working with the School of Business and Economics at the Freie University to examine how employing marketing tools that have been successful in private sector food campaigns might help magnify the positive effect of German public health campaigns. "My hope is that this project will contribute to our knowledge of the role of the public sector in encouraging healthier diets and the public value of health and wellness," she says.

The experience in Germany builds on work for the GAO, where she reported to Congress on issues that included social and agricultural programs.

Read notes that the quantitative methods she gained at La Follette have been crucial. "I regularly used the analytical skills I learned at La Follette in my work at the GAO, and I find they are equally valuable during my fellowship," she says.

Those skills are one reason why Read makes financial donations to the La Follette School. "Giving back to La Follette is important to me in part because I credit La Follette for giving me the tools to make a big change in my professional life after graduate school," she says. "Getting a job at GAO was a boost for me professionally, and I was qualified for the position thanks to the education I received from La Follette. The clear connection between my work and my education makes it easy to remember to give back so La Follette can continue to support students as they build their careers."

Read came to La Follette after working with immigrants and refugees with two organizations in Minnesota. Her interest in international migration began with her work with Multicultural Communities in Action. "That AmeriCorps position in St. Paul was one of the most influential jobs I have had," Read says. "I worked with the refugee and immigrant community to support a smooth resettlement for families from countries such as Laos, Liberia and El Salvador. I realized at that time how closely connected I felt to many of the policy issues that affected people in my own community.

Read next spent nearly two years with the American Refugee Committee International, helping with fund-raising, grant-writing, and program start-up and evaluation. The summer before she enrolled at La Follette, she was director of field operations for the Global Young Leaders Conference.

A scholarship offer solidified her decision to attend the La Follette School. "Receiving the scholarship was honestly one of the biggest single events in my life," she says. "I remember exactly where I was when I received the message that I had received a scholarship to attend La Follette. I was in training for a summer job. That funding allowed me to focus on learning and to seek out opportunities that helped me build a career."

Advice from 2004 alum Marlia (Moore) Mattke, now deputy Medicaid director for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, also played a role. Family friends connected them, Read says. "Marlia helped me evaluate my graduate school options when I first visited La Follette as a prospective student. We continued to stay in contact, especially through our mutual interest in health policy."

While at La Follette, Read researched, analyzed and synthesized state-level family economic policies and practices for an Institute for Research on Poverty report to the Anne E. Casey Foundation. In the summer, she interned with the GAO in Washington, D.C.

"La Follette provides an excellent education while also being more affordable than many other similar programs," Read says. "Madison is a great place to study public policy because one has access to state and local government and all the resources offered by the university. There are endless ways to get involved in issues you are interested in while you are a student."

For her second year with the La Follette School, Read had a project assistantship with the Wisconsin Legislative Council and the university's Population Health Institute. In that position, she advised the Wisconsin Legislature on options for improving nutrition in public schools, organized forums for legislators and researchers on evidence-based health policy issues, and co-wrote a journal article that analyzed data on Wisconsin physicians' health-care priorities.

"That experience working with the Legislature to shape childhood nutrition policy inspired me to continue building a career in nutrition policy and programming," Read says.

Her interest in nutrition deepened at the GAO, where she was part of the agency's Food Group that evaluated U.S. food safety and agriculture programs. Her team studied crop assistance and other farmer support systems, and they frequently met with colleagues working on related projects to share information.

"I developed a deeper sense of the complexity of U.S. agriculture programs and how agriculture policy could be shaped to align itself with public health and nutrition goals," Read says. "At this time, I enrolled in weekend nutrition classes, which were an important step for me to continue to connect my interests in nutrition and agriculture policy, and to develop a deeper understanding of the role of nutrition in personal health. My education at La Follette inspired these steps, which prepared me to focus on public nutrition programs during my fellowship in Berlin."

Read says the quantitative training she received at La Follette is even more crucial in Berlin. "The training in economics and statistics at La Follette has been a constant ingredient in my work evaluating public programs," she says. "As a fellow in Germany, though, I no longer have the direct support of GAO economists and methodologists, so I am beginning to re-access some of my training in statistics, for example, to evaluate the strength of results in studies related to community behaviors in nutrition and physical activity."

Read relishes having the freedom to delve into her own research. "With the Humboldt fellowship, I have tailored my project specifically to my interest at this stage of my career," she says. "I will be working independently, with the help of a mentor, to evaluate efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, particularly through public awareness campaigns and education."

She also looks forward to connecting with other people interested in health and nutrition. "The Humboldt Foundation has provided thousands of fellowships to researchers and practitioners over the past few decades," Read says. "There is a well-developed and supportive network of current fellows and alumni, and I see this as a valuable way to connect to and share information with others in similar fields during and after my fellowship year."

"I have always been interested in international and domestic affairs, and my career has given me a mix of both," she adds. "Between my AmeriCorps and La Follette experiences, I had a number of positions, but I maintained an interest in domestic public policy. Even this fellowship in Germany has a piece of that domestic angle, because I am immersing myself in Berlin and learning about how Germany's national health and nutrition program reaches Berliners. In addition, studying the program in the context of Germany and the European Union will allow for some interesting comparisons to the United States."

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